Brand positioning is theft and warfare

There has been an awful lot of nonsense written about the idea of brand positioning. I know, I’ve read most of it.

And it’s usually written by someone who is writing theoretically. They don’t actually work at the marketing/advertising coalface. So they kind of don’t really know what they’re talking about.

I have been thinking about positioning lately and this is my take on it.

Positioning, to me, means asking yourself “what is the thing that is most worth stealing in the category?” and then stealing that thing by simply claiming it.

and then defending that claim energetically.

Because positioning is warfare.

And making a big claim is energizing in itself. In a way it’s a declaration of war.

It should at least piss your competitors off in a big way. That’s for sure.

5 responses to “Brand positioning is theft and warfare

  1. Love this! Reminds me of a Lee Clow’s Beard tweet: “Any ad can have a call to action. A great ad is its own call to arms.”

  2. A postcard from the coalface:

    It feels like you’re talking about positioning advertising, not brands. Purpose isn’t relevant? Character isn’t part of it? The question is not “How should I sell my widget?”, but “How should I position my brand to a) sell more widgets b) motivate my people c) improve the customer experience and d) drive up my share price?”

    Your perfectly question will produce some great ads, which in turn will hopefully lead to all sorts of amazing things for the advertiser. It’s like Dave Trott’s Predatory Thinking (for one to win, the other has to lose). But I vote for more, in a BS-free kinda way.

  3. No Tim, I’m not talking about advertising. I’m talking about the territory in consumers’ minds. And that is usually a matter of taking what you’re given in reality and making the most of it, which of course is done with maximum success for all in mind.

    But to a large extent, brands are what they are. Our perception of them is based on experience and previous knowledge. The Gap is The Gap.

    Apple didn’t become the number one tech brand because of words on a powerpoint, it got there by making insanely great devices.

    Similarly Volvo didn’t set out to become the safe car. It got there by connecting its very well engineered if slightly dull cars to a demographic trend. A very lucrative move. And it claimed that territory via advertising.

    When I worked on Budweiser I found that its position was defined by its popularity and mass appeal. It is America’s beer. And as much as we and the guys at Anheuser-Busch would try to push it into upscale land, it was a losing battle. Because we were fighting reality. You can’t simultaneously be the number one beer AND the cool beer.

    The truth is most brands don’t occupy any space in people’s minds. Their elaborate positionings are academic.

  4. theescapepod, you got to this before I could answer, but I figured I’d put down my thoughts anyway.

    Even the guys most powerfully associated with the idea of Positioning — Ries & Trout — specifically say that, for any product category, there are only a very few associations worth having — very few values people care about when thinking of a given product. When it comes to batteries, you’ve got long-lasting and dependable. Energizer and Duracel. Maybe now, as a very distant third, you’ve got green/rechargeable, and even there, you still find that the most popular rechargeable’s have staken their claims on long-lasting and dependable, with Sanyo’s Eneloops holding the dependable crown. If you can’t own one of those two values in people’s minds, you pretty much need to compete on price, as there is no “adding in” another value — you can’t get people to care about something they don’t already care about.

    And no matter how many “It’s not just for breakfast anymore” ads you try to run, your client doesn’t have the horsepower to actually grow the market, absent some other demographic trend already doing so.

    Bottom-Line: You either need to steel someone else’s position, or you need to preemptively lay claim to one of the very few values people care about. You can’t make people care about values they don’t already care about. You can’t grow the market as a whole. Gaining market share is stealing market share.

    And while I’ve found — on a small-business regional level, working in radio advertising — that you CAN “romance the stone” or turn a molehill of a difference into a mountain of a brand value, you still have to at least START with some kind of reality — with a stone. Even the master romancer of products, J. Peterman, wrote about the necessity of “factual romance.”

    So… positioning is indeed theft and warefare from everything I’ve ever seen.

  5. Good points Jeff. Great current example of theft and warfare: Audi kicking BMW and Mercedes ass. why? cooler more affordable cars. simple.

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